Lifespire Bowl-a-Thon Fundraiser Fulfills Longtime Dream of 89 Year-Old Bowling League Founder Larry Hirsch

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Larry Hirsch began the Sunday morning Bowling League in 1969 to provide a fun physical activity for his daughter and other individuals with developmental disabilities.

Lifespire Foundation

Larry has been a tremendous asset to the bowling league and to Lifespire,” says Tom Lydon.

Lifespire, a NYC-based nonprofit that provides a full range of services for individuals with developmental disabilities, will hold their first annual Bowl-a-Thon fundraiser on Sunday, March 22, at Jib Lanes, 67-19 Parsons Boulevard in Flushing. The event will be held from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm and will feature pizza, games, prizes, raffles, and awards for participants.

Bowling has been an integral part of Lifespire since 1969. It began with a group of parents who took their children—some with developmental disabilities, others not— bowling on Sunday mornings. “I was looking for a way that my daughter Phyllis, who has a developmental disability, could get some physical activity and mingle with her peers,” says Larry Hirsch, Bowling League founder and longtime Lifespire board member. “We all got along so well that we made it a regular event. Then a young lady who attended our bowling sessions told her friends at our Saturday Evening Social program. The next week, a crowd of individuals with developmental disabilities showed up at the bowling ally, wanting to play. And so the league was formed.”

Hirsch ran the Lifespire Bowling League from its inception in 1969 until his retirement in 2014 at the age of 89. “Once the league was up and running, the parents just sat back and let the kids do all the bowling,” says Hirsch. “And they just loved it. It was heartwarming to see the excitement on the bowlers’ faces as they pulled me by the hand to come see when they made a strike or a spare.”

Some Bowling League members travel from as far as way as Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island to attend. Many who first joined in the 1970s are still in the League, and 5 bowlers are from the original group, including Hirsch’s daughter Phyllis.

Originally, the Bowling League was held at Regency Lanes in Kew Garden Hills, and when that closed after a few years, was moved to Jib Lanes in Flushing where it has been ever since. “I knew the owner of Jib Lanes at the time,” says Hirsch, “but I was concerned if other leagues would accept sharing a bowling alley with people who have developmental disabilities. But there was no trouble at all and we were actually welcomed. And the current owner, John La Spina, has been incredibly supportive of our Sunday morning league.”

The Bowling League has grown significantly from its original 25 members and now has 145 members, ranging in age from 18 to 80. It is divided into three groups. The first is comprised of 80 more independent individuals in 16 teams of 5 bowlers each, and is very competitive. A second group is for adults needing more supports from staff and the third group is for Lifespire home residents who prefer to bowl exclusively with their housemates. This group uses bumpers and ramps to make sure that balls don’t go in gutter to help the bowlers score. Students from Archbishop Molloy high school volunteer their time to help out as needed.

After bowling, many stay to socialize in Jib Lanes’ cafeteria while others travel to Flushing to have lunch. “The league provides a great physical activity for these individuals,” says Hirsch, “otherwise, they’d just be sitting in front of a TV. And it’s a great way for them to make new friends. But it’s also a learning experience as we have strict behavior rules—no fighting, no yelling, no cursing—so they improve their socializing skills, too.”

The Bowling League meets every Sunday from 9:00am – 12:30pm and takes up 36 of the 48 available lanes. The 34-week season runs from September to May and ends with a celebration at Antun’s in Queens Village that includes a catered lunch, DJ, dancing, and trophies.

Hirsch finally retired from running the League in 2014, and it is now run by Lifespire COO Tom Lydon, with the help of Norman Dodell, Lifespire Recreational Director, and a few others. “Larry has been a tremendous asset to the bowling league and to Lifespire,” says Lydon. “He still comes here every Sunday out of the goodness of his heart. He loves the individuals, and they love him. We’re simply moving forward in the trail that Larry blazed.”

For years, the parents of Bowling League members raised funds by soliciting local businesses, banks, family, and friends. They made enough money to keep the league going and provide all members with a shirt emblazoned with their name, trophies, and an end-of-season celebration. “The League could not have existed for 46 years without the efforts of so many parents who not only helped run the league, but raised funds for it as well,” says Hirsch, “and I’m very thankful for their support.”

This year, the decision was made to hold what will become an annual Bowl-a-Thon fundraising event, with a goal of raising $50,000. A $1,000 donation secures “sponsorship” of a lane that hosts 5 bowlers, one of whom is a ‘celebrity bowler’ from Lifespire’s Bowling League. In this way, participants will connect first-hand with the very individuals that their donations will benefit, and see for themselves how an activity such as bowling can positively impact those with developmental disabilities.

“Ideally, we’d like to get sponsorships for all 48 lanes so we can make our fundraising goal,” says Lydon, “and we’re almost halfway there already. Community Care Rx, our new pharmacy provider, is the primary sponsor of the event, but there are other sponsorship opportunities available. We also welcome contributions from families and friends.”

Hirsch, who still shows up to the League every Sunday, will be at the Bowl-a-Thon, too. “I lose all my aches and pains when I’m at the bowling alley,” he says. “It’s in my blood. And I’ve wanted to do a big fundraising bowl-a-thon for a long time. So for me, this is like a dream come true.”

To learn more or to sign up for a sponsorship, contact Tom Lydon at (917) 215-4839 or tlydon(at)lifespire(dot)org.

About Lifespire
Lifespire is a recognized leader in providing adults with developmental disabilities in New York State with a full range of programs including prevocational and supported employment, residential, medical, behavior management and family services. It was founded in 1951 as the Association for Children with Retarded Mental Development (ACRMD), and was one of the first organizations to advocate for developmentally disabled children in New York City. In 2000, the name was changed to Lifespire to reflect the organization’s aim of “helping individuals reach life’s aspirations.” For more information, visit http://www.lifespire.org.

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